Analyzing Legislative Abolition of the Death Penalty: A Preliminary Case Study of New Jersey


Though several state legislatures have considered bills to eliminate the death penalty in the past decade, New Jersey stands alone as the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty in over thirty years. What factors enabled the New Jersey legislature to successfully pass legislation that abolished the death penalty? To answer this question, I conduct a qualitative case study of the state using archival research and an interview with a pro-abolition lobbyist. I conclude that the primary factors that paved the way for abolition were dedicated supporters of the legislation, unified government, amenable public opinion, and issue frames emphasizing the risk of executing an innocent person and the emotional impact of the death penalty process on victims ’ families. Finally, I discuss the limitations of the present study and suggest hypotheses for further research. Introduction: the Death Penalty in America The death penalty in the United States of America is a constant source of controversy. Efforts to abolish the death penalty in America go back over one hundred years (Davis, 1957) and have continued to the present day (Galliher, Ray, and Cook, 1992; Haines, 1996). In addition, the fifty states vary widely in their retention and use of the death penalty. As of 2008, the death penalt

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